Every high priest is chosen by God, Hebrews 5:5-10, and is also one who can sympathize with the weak. Christ is shown as one whom in Gethsemane, “learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation” (vv 8-9). Hebrews compares the human high priest of Jews with Jesus Christ, the high priest of the Christians.

The story of Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of the highest God is a fascinating story. He is a shadowy figure, appearing suddenly without any parentage mentioned. He appears once and is gone. His bringing forth wine and bread is seen as symbolic. Chapter 7 of Hebrews states his case most poetically: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever” (v. 3). Melchizedek was the first priest of Almighty God, and his priesthood was the model for that of Christ “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” as Hebrews 5,6, & 7.

Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Our sermon passage is bracketed by the tantalizing phrase describing Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. In what way is Jesus like this priest? The ancient commentary presents Melchizedek was one-of-a-kind priest. We do not know his father or mother, but he was appointed to be a divine priest. In Jesus Christ, we have the story of how he comes forth by the Holy Conception as a human being. Mary was chosen to be the mother.

Jesus is our eternal high priest. In verses 7 and 8 the humanity of Jesus is emphasized. The priest was a representative of the people; he was among the people and one of them. Indeed, when he offered sacrifice he first offered sacrifice for his own sins. Such was his identification with humanity. The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Jesus tasted the full experience of humanity, including temptation.

We are told, in these verses, that Jesus offered up prayers and supplications. An old Jewish saying on ascending levels of prayer tells us that there is, first, the level of silent prayer, then crying out in prayer with raised voice, and finally prayer with tears, against which no door can be barred. We see Jesus at all these levels of prayer as we reflect on the all night vigils and the experience in Gethsemane. In a phrase hard to understand, this passage also tells us that Jesus learned obedience by the thing that he suffered. Jesus, in his humanity, gradually learned the full extent of the Father’s will, and put his will in subjection to that will, as we are told in Gethsemane.

So, Jesus is the great High Priest forever. High Priest by divine appointment, with a higher and nobler ministry of bread and wine, spilt blood and mangled body. Jesus is the High Priest who, in his link with humanity, gains the victory over death for all, and is able to sympathize with us all. He understands our struggle and trials because he has been there.

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J.B. Morris leads the St. Andrews United Methodist Church.